The artists studios of Talgarth Road

If you’ve ever driven into (or out of) London along the A4 in west London, you will have spotted an unusual row of houses as you drive through Barons Court and perhaps have wondered, ‘what on earth are they?’ as you drive by. Well, for years I did, until I had the chance to research the artists studios of Talgarth Road.

143 Talgarth Road - Ext

Many of you may have guessed that they were built as artists houses with the large windows along the top floor to allow maximum natural light to flood into the house. The row of eight houses were first known as St Paul’s Studios and completed in 1891 along Colet Gardens – which later became Talgarth Road – looking out over the large grounds of St Paul’s School. The houses were designed by Frederick Wheeler for ‘fine art publisher’, James Fairless, and particularly designed for the ‘bachelor artist’.

St Paul's Studios 1891
St Paul’s Studios 1891

They were built in the popular style of the time, with brick and terracotta, along with decorative wrought iron and lead light windows. The basement accommodation was particularly designed for a housekeeper, while the ground floor was the living accommodation for the resident artist and the top floor was completely dedicated to studio space with the large round-headed window.

A few years ago, while working with Chestertons estate agents, I was asked to research the history of the former No.5 St Paul’s Studios. I had such fun delving into the stories of the former artists and discovering that for much of the history of the house it was home to a long list of noted artists, sculptors, and writers.

The Sea Urchin by Ruby Levick
The Sea Urchin by Ruby Levick Courtesy of The Victorian Web

The first occupant to move in to the studio was Ruby Levick, who at the time was studying as a sculptor at the National Art Training School (later the Royal College of Art) in South Kensington. She later achieved great success, including exhibiting at the Royal Academy, and was much admired by Queen Alexandria. As an aside, Ruby’s brother, George Levick, was the surgeon and zoologist on Scott’s last expedition to Antarctica in 1910.

In 1901-03, No.5 St Paul’s Studios was the home of artist, Inglis Sheldon-Williams, an illustrator and a forerunner of today’s photo-journalist. He worked as an artist in the field during the Boer War and became an official war artist during the First World War.

St Martin-in-the-Fields by William Logsdail, 1888
St Martin in the Fields by William Logsdail, 1888



In 1903 the studio along Talgarth Road became the home of prominent English artist, William Logsdail. He had already exhibited at the Royal Academy at the age of 18 in 1877 and went on to have a highly successful career, with many popular paintings of familiar scenes in London, including St Martin-in-the-Fields and Bank and Royal Exchange. Queen Victoria purchased his work The Antwerp Fish Market after it was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1880, which is still part of the Royal Collection today. William Logsdail continued at No.5 St Paul’s Studios until 1922 during which time he worked on his portrait painting, including Lord and Lady Halifax and Lord Curzon.

St Paul's Studios in the London Post Office Directory, 1922
St Paul’s Studios in the London Post Office Directory, 1922

In 1923 through to 1938 the studio was the home of George Kruger Gray, who was particularly noted for his stained glass windows, but also his coin designs for British and Commonwealth nations. 1939 Aus half penny

His designs appeared on coins in Australia, New Zealand and Canada, as well as the British shilling, florin, half crown and six pence, between 1927 and 1952.

George Kruger Gray also served with the Artists Rifles during the First World War and was created C.B.E. in 1938.  He had several official commissions, including creating the Great Seal of King George VI and the collar of the Order of the British Empire.

After the Second World War, in 1949-50, No.5 St Paul’s Studios was the home of author and playwright,  Ernest Gébler, husband of the Irish author, Edna O’Brien and father of author, Carlo Gébler. Ernest Gébler wrote several books, including The Voyage of the Mayflower, which sold five million copies and was made into a film with Spencer Tracy. Later, his play Call Me Daddy was made into a television drama and earned him an Academy Award in 1968, and his play Hoffman was made into a film in 1970 with Peter Sellers and Sinead Cusack.

By the 1950s a number of the studios were being converted into business space and No.5 became a dance school for the ‘Margaret Morris Movement’, a unique system of dance and physical education created by dancer Margaret Morris. The house continued to be used as a dance school through to the 1980s, when it once again became a residential home. The new owner, interior designer Allan Day, then set about restoring the house and studio back to its former glory, much as it had been when first completed in 1891.

Former No.5 St Paul's Studio - image courtesy of Chestertons
Former No.5 St Paul’s Studio – image courtesy of Chestertons

Vanity Fair’s ‘Spy’ in Wellington Square

It has been a busy few weeks (which explains the length of time since my last post – sorry)! I have been working on house history projects in Kent and Gloucestershire, as well as writing guest blog posts and articles, but I have also recently been researching the history of a house in one of Chelsea’s most sought-after garden squares – Wellington Square.

Wellington Square - Chelsea
Wellington Square – Chelsea

With its black iron railings, often appearing in the popular ‘Made in Chelsea’ television programme, it is situated in a highly desirable location, just off King’s Road.

However, Wellington has had a varied history that would seem unrecognisable to many Londoners today.

The houses in the square were completed in the early 1850s, which coincided with the death of The Iron Duke – The Duke of Wellington – who lay in state at the nearby Royal Hospital Chelsea – and for whom the square was named.

The completed square soon became the home of professionals and clerks, including surveyors, journalists, civil servants, as well as some on independent means. However, by the 188os a growing number of households were taking in lodgers and some houses had become boarding houses. This included the house I was researching which was home to lodging house keeper, 65 year old John Dowling from Liverpool, along with his wife Anne and their four grown-up children.

1881 census - John Dowling and family
1881 census – John Dowling and family

But, by the late 19th and into the early 20th century, along with large portions of Chelsea, Wellington Square began to be occupied by a growing number of artists, musicians, and writers. At the time of the 1901 census, the house was home to ‘Professor of Music’ and organist, Ernest William Trafford-Taunton, and his wife, author, Emily Winifrede, who wrote several novels in the early 1900s, including The Man in the Grey Coat (1905).

Carriage in a Landscape by Robert Scott Temple
Carriage in a Landscape by Robert Scott Temple

The Trafford-Taunton’s also shared the house with Scottish landscape artist, Robert Scott Temple. Today, his works are still held in galleries across the UK.

Ernest Thesiger in Bride of Frankenstein
Ernest Thesiger in Bride of Frankenstein

The house also had links with several actors, including Ernest Frederic Graham Thesiger, who is most remembered for his role in The Bride of Frankenstein (1935), and also Elystan Owen Evan-Thomas, or sometimes simply Evan Thomas, who worked on stage and film in both Hollywood and the UK.

One of the most prominent names connected to the house in Wellington Square was the father-in-law of Elystan Evan-Thomas, Sir Leslie Ward.

Sir Leslie Ward, 1889
Sir Leslie Ward, 1889

Sir Leslie Ward was a celebrated artist and caricaturist, who became famous as ‘Spy’ (and also ‘Drawl’) creating caricatures of prominent names for Vanity Fair.

Herbert Henry Asquith, later Prime Minister, 1904
Herbert Henry Asquith, later Prime Minister, 1904

Ward came from a noted artistic family, with both his parents, Edward and Henrietta Ward, achieving prominence as artists. His grandfather, George Raphael Ward, and his great grandfather, James Ward, were also successful artists.

He began working for Vanity Fair in 1873 (with the help of family friend, artist John Everett Millais), where he created caricatures of famous faces until the early 1900s. Between 1873 and 1911, he produced 1325 caricatures, including literary figures, churchmen, politicians, judges, and celebrities.

Leslie Ward also worked on portraits for other newspapers and private portrait painting, but it is work with Vanity Fair which is often most remembered, and still today are commonly known as ‘Spy Cartoons’.

Hamo Thornycroft, 1892
Hamo Thornycroft, 1892

Leslie Ward and his wife and daughter moved to the house in Wellington Square in 1918, the same year he received his knighthood. They only stayed for a few years, before he passed away in 1922.

Edward Bickersteth, Dean of Lichfield, 1884
Edward Bickersteth, Dean of Lichfield, 1884

This one house in Wellington Square has had a fascinating list of creative former residents, but the square has also been the home of many other famous names,  including the author of beloved Winnie the Pooh, A.A. Milne, and it was also the fictional home of another famous ‘spy’, Ian Fleming’s James Bond.

Jack the Ripper in South Kensington?

I have recently been working on the history of a family estate in London, which includes a number of lovely streets in South Kensington, including Hereford Square along Gloucester Road. And, it was while researching the history of one house in Hereford Square that I uncovered a fascinating collection of former residents – including one man suspected as being Jack the Ripper!

Hereford Square
Hereford Square

Hereford Square was built over the gardens of a large country house during the late 1840s with almost all the new houses occupied with residents at the time of the 1851 census.

Fanny Kemble
Fanny Kemble

During the mid 19th century Hereford Square was home to a number of renowned residents, including artists, politicians, and clergymen, and during the 1880s the renowned actress Fanny Kemble was living at No.26.

Arthur Wentworth Gore
Arthur Gore

Later, No.12 was the home of Arthur Gore, three times Wimbledon singles champion and two times gold medal-winning tennis player.

However, it was during the 1890s that No.10 Hereford Square became the home of Jane Cobden, the daughter of reformer and radical politician, Richard Cobden, an MP most remembered for his opinions on Free Trade.

Emma ‘Jane’ Cobden followed in her father’s footsteps and took an active role in politics, particularly the women’s suffrage movement. However, she chose not to engage in militant activities (unlike her sister Anne who was imprisoned in 1906), but succeeded in being one of the first women, alongside Lady Sandhurst, elected to the first London County Council in 1889.

At the time of the 1891 census, Jane Cobden was recorded in Hereford Square as ‘Member of County Council’ and at the same time was living with her sister Ellen and her husband, artist Walter Sickert.

Walter Sickert by George Charles Beresford, 1911
Walter Sickert by George Charles Beresford, 1911

Sickert was a pupil of James McNeil Whistler’s and much inspired by Edgar Degas. He became a prominent artist during the early 20th century and co-founded the Camden Town Group of artists, and went on to have a prolific career with many of his works held in galleries across the country, including the Tate Collection.

'Jack the Ripper's Bedroom' by Walter Sickert, 1907
‘Jack the Ripper’s Bedroom’ by Walter Sickert, 1907

However, controversy has surrounded Sickert since his death as he has been suspected as being the notorious murderer Jack the Ripper, who wreaked havoc on the streets of East London in 1888. Sickert was interested in the crimes of The Ripper, and it is believed he even lodged in a room thought to have been used by the murderer, and he later created a painting of the room called ‘Jack the Ripper’s Bedroom’ (now in Manchester Art Gallery).

It was many years later, during the 1970s, that the first hint of Sickert being involved or actually even being Jack the Ripper first surfaced. Since that time a number of books have been published claiming Sickert as The Ripper, including celebrated crime novelist, Patricia Cornwall, who is convinced it was Sickert and published her findings in Portrait of a Killer – Jack the Ripper Case Closed, in 2002. However, many others have refuted the claims as completely false.

Curiously, nearby pub ‘The Hereford Arms’ states in its history that it was “the reputed drinking haunt of Jack the Ripper, but this has never been confirmed as his identity has never been established!” It is interesting to note that Walter Sickert was living just across the road in Hereford Square at the time!

The history of No.10 Hereford Square also featured in my latest column ‘A Place in History’ for The London Magazine. For more stories featuring the history of London houses you can check out the magazine each month or visit the website – including No.11 Chesterfield Hill in Mayfair :-)

Espionage and spies in Portman Square

The recent commemorations celebrating the 70th anniversary of VE Day – Victory in Europe – on the 8th May have reminded me of one of my favourite house histories.


The efforts of everyone during the Second World War are worthy of celebration and honour – I don’t think many of us living in the 21st century can fully comprehend the sacrifices made by this incredible generation of men and women. But, it was while I was with Chestertons estate agents that I was researching the history of a mansion block in the middle of Marylebone in London and I uncovered an extraordinary story of its use by the Special Operations Executive during the war.

Orchard Court - Portman Square
Orchard Court – Portman Square

Orchard Court looks like many other mansion blocks you’ll see across London and when completed in 1930 it was very much like any other mansion block, but with the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939 it soon took on another role. In 1940, Winston Churchill created a new secret service to undertake operations in occupied Europe. Fighting undercover and working with the local resistance groups, the Special Operations Executive (SOE) played a pivotal role in the war effort.

It was in a flat in Orchard Court that the French section of the SOE were based. In an ordinary residential flat they established an office where they met potential new recruits, as well as met existing personnel. It was also here they met those who were soon to be parachuted into occupied France. “The time the agents spent at Orchard Court was a brief period of luxury before their gruelling, dangerous stints in the field.”

Vera Atkins
Vera Atkins

The French section (‘F’ Section) of the SOE was commanded by Maurice Buckmaster, assisted by Vera Atkins. Vera Atkins has been remembered as an extraordinary woman in her efforts and service to the agents within her care. She was the main point of contact for the F Section, including meeting new recruits at Orchard Court, as well as assisting in their final preparations before being sent into Nazi occupied France. She sent 470 agents into France, including 39 women, 118 of whom were never to return. The F Section was particularly noted for their acceptance of women as they were less conspicuous than men, but this was still highly unusual.

After the war, Vera Atkins also searched out the agents who had gone missing and went to every effort to uncover what had happened to them.

It is also believed that Vera Atkins may have been the inspiration for Ian Fleming’s Miss Moneypenny and Maurice Buckmaster his ‘M’ in the James Bond novels!

In recent years more of the stories of the agents of the SOE have come to light, although many did not speak of their experiences in their own lifetime.

It is extraordinary to imagine these highly-skilled agents walking in and out of this ‘ordinary’ looking mansion block in the middle of London with very few people having any idea of their involvement in the war effort or their experiences of espionage and resistance in occupied France.

There are a number of books and online sources on the history and stories of agents of the Special Operations Executive, but if you’d like to know more, perhaps start with a visit to – The Imperial War Museum

Early London Omnibus – The Wilson’s Favorite!

A short time ago I was researching the history of a house in Highbury, north London, and discovered an intriguing character in the house during the 1860s. In 1863, Mr John Wilson and his wife Mary moved to the house, but by this time Mr Wilson had retired and it was only through delving into his past did I uncover the story of a remarkable career. It turns out that Mr John Wilson was one of the first omnibus proprietors in London.


Along with his sister Elizabeth, John Wilson established a thriving omnibus or horse bus business transporting clerks and city workers to and from the City of London from the growing suburbs of north London. The origins of the omnibus company have been tricky to track down, but later records show that John and his sister Elizabeth established the ‘Wilson’s Omnibus’, often known as the ‘Wilson’s Favorite [sic]’ sometime during the 1830s. By the time of the 1841 census John was recorded as a ‘Coach Proprietor’ in Finsbury, Islington, and along with his sister, ‘Mrs Wilson of Holloway’, owned one of the largest omnibus companies in London.

A painting by James Pollard shows the Wilson’s Favorite at Islington Green in 1852. Held in the London Transport Museum collection – follow the link below to view.

‘Favorite omnibus at Islington Green’ by James Pollard, 1852

George Shillibeer's first omnibus 1829
George Shillibeer’s first omnibus 1829

The first omnibus service in London was established in 1829 by George Shillibeer, running from Paddington along Marylebone Road to the City, but it wasn’t long before other entrepreneurs were taking up the opportunity of offering transport to fee-paying passengers. In the early years omnibuses – or horse buses – were named (unlike numbered buses that we have today) and the Wilson’s was known as the ‘Favorite’ or ‘Favourite’. By 1839 Elizabeth and John Wilson were recorded as having 11 horse buses.

This was an ideal time to be investing in this new type of enterprise as the building of new streets and houses was beginning to spread to the outskirts of London, with growth in the north to places like Islington and Highbury, which meant there were many city workers who required transport to work. Islington was an ideal location for a new bus route and the Wilson’s became known for their bus route from north London into the City.

The May Day start of Wilsons' Omnibus - The Favourite
Wilson’s Omnibus ‘The Favourite’ – The Pictorial Times, 1846

The Wilson’s Favorite became a popular and highly successful omnibus company. In 1853 John Garwood wrote in The Million-Peopled City that the Wilson’s ‘Favorite’ was ‘on the whole, as well regulated as, if not better than, any other which exists.’ The Wilson’s Omnibus even featured in Charles Dickens’ All the Year Round weekly journal, when in 1863 the writer told of how he would watch the ‘green favorites, boldly declaring the ownership of ‘Elizabeth and John Wilson’ – grand ‘buses, those, with drivers and conductors in green liveries, always renewed (with an accompaniment of nosegay for button-hole, and favours for whip, and rosettes for horses’ ears) on the occasion of the Queen’s birthday…’ In 1902, Henry Charles Moore states in his Omnibus and Cabs that ‘Mr Wilson was the largest proprietor in London, and his vehicles, which were known all over the Metropolis, had the reputation of being exceedingly well conducted.’

Another painting by James Pollard shows the Wilson’s Favorite in 1845. Held in the Museum of London collection – follow the link below to view.

‘A Street Scene with Two Omnibuses’ by James Pollard, 1845

In 1856 John and Elizabeth Wilson sold their omnibus company to the new and rapidly expanding ‘Compagnie Generale des Londres’ – renamed the London General Omnibus Company (LGOC) in 1858. The LGOC later became the biggest and most prominent omnibus company, buying up a number of local companies and spreading their presence across London. When the Wilson’s sold their firm they had over 50 horse buses, 500 horsed, and around 180 employees.

John Wilson died in the house in Highbury in 1866 leaving around £30,000 (well over £1 million in today’s money) to his wife Mary.

The man behind David Lloyd George in the House of Commons

409 Fulham Road_angleOn a day when the launch of the electoral campaign for the 2015 elections is dominating the headlines I am reminded of a house I researched several years ago that has some unexpected links with UK politics. In the 1930s it was the home of an early female Member of Parliament and later in the 1960s it was the home of prominent sculptor, Uli Nimptsch, responsible for the statue of David Lloyd George in the House of Commons.

The Victorian house (researched for Chesterton Humberts – now Chestertons), situated along Fulham Road in London, was first built when the area was still predominately covered with fields and market gardens. It was completed in 1846 as part of a short terrace called ‘Lansdowne Villas’.

The first resident to move into the house was Mr George Ash – dentist. At the time of the 1851 census he was recorded in the house with his wife and five children.

I dread to think of the working life of Mr Ash as an early dentist – or more precisely the patients and their experiences with a Victorian dentist! Particularly when considering that anaesthetic wasn’t widely used and an official register of Dentists was only established by the Royal College of Surgeons in 1872.

Os map 1865_600dpi_crop_Fulham Rd_lores
Ordnance Survey map 1865 – Fulham Road

By the early 20th century the house was the home of Bessie Humphries, who was renting out rooms in the house. This continued through to the mid 20th century with Miss Laura Brown, who rented rooms to women, and in particular in 1930-31 the house is believed to have been the home of Mary Pickford. It appears unlikely to have been the Hollywood film star Mary Pickford, but rather Miss Mary A. Pickford the daughter of William Pickford, 1st Baron Sterndale.

Mary Pickford 1929
Mary Pickford 1929

Mary Pickford took an active role in community and political activities from a young age and during the war (interrupting her studies at Oxford University) she worked as a factory inspector for the Home Office. In 1929 she stood as a Conservative candidate for Farnworth but was unsuccessful, but was invested as a Commander, Order of the British Empire (CBE) later that year. Mary once again stood as a Conservative candidate, in the 1931 General Election, when it is believed she was living in the house along Fulham Road, and this time was successful, becoming MP for Hammersmith North. However, sadly Mary Pickford only held the position for three years as she died suddenly in 1934.

However, it was after the World War Two that the house became the home of it’s most famous resident, sculptor, Uli Nimptsch. Uli (full name Julius) was born in Germany and studied in Berlin, Rome, and Paris during the 1920s and 30s, but moved from Nazi Germany in 1939 for the sake of his Jewish wife, Ruth. Uli and his family settled in the house on Fulham Road in 1948 where he established himself as a noted sculptor, particularly famous for his female sculptures and portrait busts.

Uli Nimptsch working on the statue of David Lloyd George, 1962
Uli Nimptsch working on the statue of David Lloyd George, 1962

It was in the 1960s that Uli received his most prominent commission – to create an over life size sculpture of former Prime Minister, David Lloyd George.

The statue was completed in 1963 and was unveiled in the Member’s Lobby on 18 December by the Prime Minister Sir Douglas-Home. It stands prominently at the entrance to the House of Commons opposite the statue of Sir Winston Churchill. Both statues famously feature a worn foot as it is the custom for MPs to rub the foot for good luck as they walk past.

Uli exhibited regularly, including a solo exhibition in London in 1942, and later was elected R.A. in 1967. He was also Master of Royal Academy Sculpture School in 1966-69 and today a number of his works are held in galleries across the country, including The Tate Collection. Uli Nimptsch continued to live in the house on Fulham Road until he passed away in 1977.

The statues of David Lloyd George and Winston Churchill in the Houses of Parliament.
The statues of David Lloyd George and Winston Churchill in the Houses of Parliament.

From J.R.R. Tolkien to The Sweeney: A house in west London

A short time ago I was commissioned to research the history of a Victorian house situated in a quiet leafy street in west London. It was built in 1870 and first named ‘Edith Villa’ after the builder’s eldest daughter.

J R R TolkienIn 1876, the house became the home of Dr George Blackmore, who married Charlotte Mary Ann Tolkien, the cousin of the famous author of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy, J.R.R. Tolkien.

Dr George and Charlotte Blackmore continued in the house throughout the 1870s and 80s during which time they had six children. Sadly, Dr Blackmore died in 1891 when only he was only 40 years old.

By this time, the area had been completely developed with rows of Victorian terraced houses.

Ordnance Survey map 1893
Ordnance Survey map 1893

During the years of the First World War, the house became the home of a horse dealer, George Painter. However, along with being a horse dealer George was also recorded as a ‘general dealer’, which turns out included some illegal dealing.

Believed to be horse dealer - George Painter
Believed to be horse dealer – George Painter

It was reported in The Times in January 1920 that George Painter was caught ‘red-handed’ in purchasing gold sovereigns for the purposes other then currency.  The Bow Street court report details the case when Mr Painter was literally left ‘holding the bag’ when the detectives entered the room where the deal was taking place.

The Times - 17 January 1920
The Times – 17 January 1920

It was stated that he immediately responded ‘I know nothing…’, but when the contents of the bag were inspected it held 1,500 sovereigns, which he had just exchanged for ‘a large packet of currency notes’. After his arrest, Painter was taken back to his house where it was searched and more sovereigns were found. George Painter was found guilty and sentenced to six months in prison, but this was later reduced to a fine.

The Sweeney

Much later in the history of the house, the drama turned to fictional drama, when it featured in the popular television programme, The Sweeney. Filmed in 1978, the house appeared in a street scene featuring the stars, John Thaw and Dennis Waterman, chasing a suspect from a nearby house.